S, my lovely neighbour has given me a sign to hang up in my garden for my birthday. It reads “I fought the weeds and the weeds won”. She has the most beautiful garden, with just the right amount of flowers and herbs and vegetables and trees. Mine is overshadowed by conifers, two fruit trees and roses everywhere. It is wild in parts and I like it that way but the two of us are endlessly amused by the frictions that two different gardening styles should throw up, but don’t.
If you had been standing in the road last night, you would have seen me exit S’s house, followed by my neighbour shrieking “oh shit, those bloody snails are eating my plant again”. You would have then seen her throwing the snails over our border into my garden, yelling “go and live next door, she likes snails”. As I as walking up my path at the time, I got hit by several airborne gastropods, which prompted me to yell “for pity’s sake (or rather the equivalent in f-word), why can’t you wait until I get indoors”, followed by lots of giggling (hers) and cackling (mine). I like to think our other neighbours find us amusing or alarming or both.
In all seriousness though, I love wildlife. I like seeing the foxes play in the twilight, having birds eat my fruit, watching mice scuttle through the long grass at the back and discovering toads under the paving slabs my grandfather piled next to the shed. I consider myself blessed that I have the garden I do, backing onto the allotments and I consider myself to be a caretaker, not an owner. I don’t give a toss if there’s a bit of fox poo on the lawn. I don’t care that that the cats have made a communal loo under the lilac. If I was a cat, I’d also want to poo under something that smells good.
However, the cats and I had a disagreement at the weekend. I am a careful and considerate cat owner. The inside cats stay inside apart from the weekend when they go out if I am home and come in when it starts to get dark. The outdoor cats go out when I go to work and come in at night. Any cat who leaves the house to play in the garden does so with a collar and big bell around its neck, thereby minimising the negative impact on the birds. Everyone understands the rules and it is very rare that one of the outdoor cats doesn’t come in (although they are sometimes late).
There are 12 cats who share my garden, 7 of mine, 3 of my neighbour’s and two current strays. My 7 get on very well, all things considered (3 were strays, one was an old neighbour’s and they have accumulated over the years, so my original three have learned to be very tolerant of other felines). S’s two new cats aren’t entirely sure whether they live at hers or mine. However, when everyone goes out at the weekend, they don’t generally all play together. Cats are not naturally pack animals and mine tend to run about on their own or in pairs.
On Friday, I was home, preparing for my birthday party, cleaning the house, sorting out plates etc and I discovered a dead field mouse on the back doorstep. Absolutely pristine, not a mark on it, just very dead. The cats were playing outside so I yelled out “whoever killed this mouse better eat it”. I really, really should have known better. I’ve been here before, after all. A few hours later, I was doing some work from home on the PC.
I turned round to see Jaggie behind me, which was unusual as he normally goes wandering until around 4pm. He blinked at me and sauntered out as only a superior, sarcastic, slinky feral cat can. I stood up and walked towards the kitchen, standing on one of the cat’s toy mice along the way. Glancing down I saw it was a furball, so thanking my lucky stars that I had shoes on, I grabbed some kitchen towel and bent to pick up the furball.
It was the head of the mouse. Jaggie had followed my instructions to the letter. So I sadly put it in the bin and carried on working. I checked later and no more dead mice could be seen.
On Saturday, I let them out again and got on with some serious cleaning. Later on, I went out into the garden to do some tidying and found another dead mouse. Again it was unmarked, just very dead. I decided not to repeat the previous day’s experience and put the mouse at the bottom of the garden for the foxes to find. I turned round and there was yet another one. So I did the same thing. I then realised that there were no cats at all in the garden, not a single one. I called them, no response. I went back indoors and set to work again, rather sadly, thinking that the only cat amongst mine who could kill a mouse without marking it was Jaggie and despite the fact he is regularly and well fed, he seemed to continue to want to pursue his hunting instincts, which is pretty normal but still not good for the environment.
Some time later, I heard an unusual noise – a high pitched, chittering. I went outside to see four cats sitting to attention around a conifer near to the back of the garden. Getting right up close and under the conifer, I saw Merlin and a mouse. The mouse was giving Merlin what-for in Mouse and he was eyeing it up in Cat. Poppet, my latest stray, was stalking it from behind with S’s two kittens flanking him and the mouse was seconds away from Mouse heaven. I yelled in Human and everyone, including the mouse, turned to look at me.
I then got as close as I could to where they were (not easy when you’re fighting conifer branches and rose branches and brambles) and hit the conifer, still yelling. Everyone continued to stare. The mouse turned from me to Merlin, as if to say “is that your human? She’s a bit nuts, isn’t she?”, looked back at me as if to confirm it and then made a dash for it, followed by the cats.
A chase under the conifers ensued, with the mouse gaining ground then doubling back, skittering and chittering amongst the leaves. I eventually gave up and ran some water into a bucket which I ran out with into the garden and proceeded to throw over everyone, including myself. Drenched, cut to smithereens by the roses and scratched by the brambles, I watched as the mouse scrambled over the fence and into the other next door neighbour’s garden. I yelled “no” as I knew there was no cover, just open ground and patio. The cats followed and I knew there was going to be only one outcome.
I trudged back in doors, bleeding and thoroughly cheesed off. So much for nature being welcome in my garden. If bells protect birds from cats, what protects mice from cats? How on earth can I protect the mice when the cats hunt in a pack? There is no escape from seven felines gone wild, reliving their genetic history as wildcats.